When Sarawak’s Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud and his logging cronies strong-arm the longhouse communities out of their Native Customary Lands they always promise the same thing. They promise the people ‘progress and development’. Most of the local people have received nothing for their valuable wood and lands. Those who did get some compensation received just a few ringgit to buy some rice. However, in return they were told that Taib would transform their lives and bring them into the modern world with roads and running water and electricity, schools, hospitals, further education and jobs as well, so they could afford modern lifestyles.
However, 30 years on, what do we see? We all know that Taib and the logging gangs have cut down one and a half million square kilometers of valuable hardwood jungle worth billions and billions of US dollars in Sarawak. Malaysia’s courts have ruled time and again that these were rightfully the Native Customary Rights territories of the local communities. Yet these people are now poorer than ever.
They no longer have their forests with fruits and animals to sustain them and their wonderful rivers have been destroyed. The fish have died and the water is polluted and unsafe to drink or wash in. River transport has been made dangerous by clogging weeds, which have grown because of the fertiliser from the oil palm plantations. The waters are brown with the earth that is being washed away now that the trees have gone. Meanwhile, it is immigrants who have been brought in to work on the plantations, while the local men get drunk on the virtually free rice wine that has been promoted by Taib.
Sarawak is Malaysia’s richest state with a tiny population, yet it has some of the country’s poorest people. 30 years on there are still no proper roads, no running water, no electricity for so many of the longhouse communities. Their children have to be sent away aged 7 to boarding schools because there are no local teachers – many as we know have been raped on their journeys by loggers. There are scarcely no medical facilities for these communities where, as we have exposed, the deathrates among women in childbirth are 3 times as high as the rest of Malaysia and 10 times as high as in the UK or Australia.
So where did all that money go? Who has enjoyed all that progress and development? As Taib Mahmud looks forward next month to the 30th anniversary of his position as Chief Minister, we have decided to publish some of the pictures which have been sent in by readers to Sarawak Report. Taib of course has 10 siblings and 4 children and numerous family members, who all like to live in the same grand style as the small selection of homes that we have featured in this photo-gallery.
All the fortunate wealthy family members and political and business cronies, whose homes we have featured, have been the recipients of generous handouts of ‘alienated’ Native Customary Rights Lands or State Lands, by Taib Mahmud personally in his joint multiple capacities as Chief Minister, Minister for Resources and Planning, Chairman of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation, Chairman of the Land Custody and Development Authority and all the numerous other key positions that give him total control over Sarawak’s government and resources.